If you are visiting the small, ancient town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam, then you will no doubt be taking some time to shop. Although there are some pretty sites on the outskirts of the town, there are a limited range of attractions in the town that will occupy you for very long. As a former trading port you will find lots of shops, and this is the place to come if you want a suit or dress made up. Other parts of Vietnam also offered this service, but the proximity of such a vast selection of tailors makes it easier and more competitive price wise. The shop I finally chose was Yala one of the bigger and seemingly more upmarket shops displaying couture type eveningwear in their windows. I had brought a sketch from home that showed the style of dress I was looking for, the assistant that I saw (Flower – I am guessing this may not have been her real name) showed me samples with similar features to make sure they understood my requirements. I was then measured and got to choose my fabric and lining. I was quoted US$60 originally but got them down to $50 by threatening to leave. Price will depend on the fabric used and the style – some shops will have the latest fashionable styles in their display (in August 2010 it was all about printed maxi dresses) and if you are picking out one of their styles, it will be cheaper than having a unique one made up. I had one fitting before the final collection/trying on of my dress and I was impressed with the fit and make. Do note that the Vietnamese tend to make their women’s clothes quite tight under the arm, so you may need to specify that you want it looser. I would also make sure you are in town for about 24 hours to allow time for fittings and any adjustments. Friends of ours had to get their dress altered several times at the shop they went to. Most shops should be able to work from a picture taken out of a magazine or sketch, and can tailor suits also. If you are buying off-the-rack (such as T-shirts) then check the size – as the Vietnamese are a lot more petite than us Westerners. Silk ties are also readily available in many shops and make nice gifts. The designs are quite tasteful and wouldn’t look out of place back home.
As well as clothing you can also get shoes made. I didn’t try this, much as I wanted to, due to a foot injury swelling my foot up. The shops can knock off a variety of designer styles at affordable prices and customise them also, of course they will fit, so if you have sizing problems, this could be the place to go. They are not as prolific as the tailors but I did see quite a few down by the waterfront and on Thai Hoc street as well as the street leading to the Can Nam Bridge.
If you are a fan of the Vietnamese and Asian style lanterns, they this is the place to get them as Hoi An is the main place for these. If you are here at the Full Moon all the shops apparently have them decorating the streets at night.
One thing I expected to see in Hoi An was little silk evening bags. You seem them all the time in Thailand and Hong Kong but I saw nothing similar in here. There are plenty of bags for sale, but they were not quite what I was looking for. However, you can get some lovely scarves here which make excellent gifts. I bought two fairly wide ones for VND160,000 (£5.35 or US$8.40) for the pair, if I hadn’t have been so tired I could have perhaps got them for less.
You will see lots of lacquer-ware goods throughout the country. They have painting, coasters, trinket boxes and a huge variety of gifts all decorated with traditional and modern Vietnamese designs. I quite liked the wine bottle holders. They are curved pieces of wood with a small round hole for the bottle neck and the wine bottle balances within the curve making an attractive novelty gift. They are also fairly easy to fit in your luggage. I bought three in a variety of design for VND 250,000 total (£8.35 or US$13). I had previously seen them in a craft co-operative shop for as much as US$23 each.
You are expected to haggle in Vietnam – expect to get about a third off. However you will sometimes find things are unbelievably cheap, so I always think that at the end of the day that extra 50cents of $1 will go a lot further in their hands than it will in mine.
This is also one of the best places to buy art in Vietnam. Again this can be purchased in other parts and you will see pieces that catch your eye throughout the country, but there is a huge array of galleries and shops selling canvases and prints in Hoi An. My partner ran amok buying a number of prints. He picked up a number of charcoal drawings for $3, and you will expect to pay $3-4 for prints between A4 and A3 sized. The gift shop at the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall (you need a ticket to get in) has a range of photographs depicting Vietnamese life. Prices are not negotiable here, but they have pictures that are unique and quite different from any others we saw. I bought a canvas painted in oils (or acrylics, I’m not quite sure) for US$8 (started at $12), which is probably double A3 sized. The canvases are not framed and will be rolled and put in a tube and sealed with tape so that you can carry it home safely, the same with the prints. It is certainly a unique and personal souvenir to take home with you (although it will cost me a lot more to frame it!). There are lots of art shops in the Old Town but check over the Japanese bridge as there are a lot there too, and they get fewer customers, so you may get a better deal.
Other things that you can get include bamboo placemats and chopsticks (just a few dollars), musical instruments, water puppets and you can also get a variety of interesting ceramics, though I was concerned about getting them home. Some shops sell stone sculptures but I think you are better off going out of town for them, towards Marble Mountain where you will get a much larger selection in these stone ‘warehouses’ full of sculptures from massive garden features that would need to be shipped home, to small animal carvings. I also got a cute little coloured onyx bangle in one of these shops by Marble Mountain.
As well as supplying the tourists they also have a ‘normal’ market selling household items and food to the locals, if you wish to get up early the fish market is very vibrant at 5am – or so I am told, I preferred my sleep!